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30 Year Anniversary: A Look Back at 2016

December 31st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

As today marks the last day of 2016, what better place than Chattermarks to look back at the memories and highlights of the year here at the North Cascades Institute. I have only recently joined as a contributor to the blog and many of the posts this past year were submitted by guests, naturalists, C15 graduate students and Ben Kusserow – our previous blog editor who left intimidatingly large shoes to fill! Before I started the graduate residency program, I frequently came to Chattermarks to get a better idea as to what my life would be like in the upper Skagit and the work being done by the Institute. The first hand narratives, naturalist tidbits, and expertise of all these contributors painted a rich picture, helping to prepare me for this year of living in the North Cascades. I hope you’ve found their contributions as helpful and informative as I did. Enjoy this look back at 2016!

Mountain School

One last group photo before these 5th graders head back to Bellingham after three days of Mountain School.

In my mind there isn’t a program at NCI that can compete with the energy and enthusiasm of Mountain School. Hundreds of students from all over the state participate in the program during fall and spring, spending three to five days exploring the trails and learning about mountain ecosystems through interdisciplinary activities.

  • We always hope that when the students leave, they are taking with them positive and lasting memories. This year, instructors shared some of the letters they received from students in the post, “Dear Mountain School,” affirming our hopes.
  • In October, we were all excited to see Mountain School in the cover story of National Geographic. The article highlighted the importance of getting young people and people of color into our National Parks.


Naturalist Notes

Photo courtesy of Ben Kusserow, from his natural history project on bats in the North Cascades National Park.

2016 was full of educational opportunities here on Chattermarks. If you feel like your naturalist skills could use a brush up or you just want to learn something new, look no further. This year seemed to have a little bit of everything, from fungi to fire lookouts.

» Continue reading 30 Year Anniversary: A Look Back at 2016

praying mantis k. renz

Nature Namaste: Retreats with Maya Whole Health Studio

June 9th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Snowy mountains, old growth forests, wholesome food, s’mores and yoga.

How could you go wrong with a combo like that?

Maya Whole Health Studio is hosting their series “Yoga, Nature & More: Refresh Your Perspective” retreats at the Environmental Learning Center this summer and fall through North Cascades Institute’s Group Rentals Program. They are a fantastic group of instructors and health practitioners from Renton, WA who are devoted to the well-being and enjoyment of their participants.

Not only are the retreats located in one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest, but guests are well taken care of while staying at the Environmental Learning Center. Maya Whole Health’s owner, Shannon Aldrich-Payne, and instructor, Kristen Swanzy-O’Conner, created the three-day, two-night retreat around meditation, yoga, reflection and experiencing the surrounding nature. Spending a weekend with them is relaxing and rejuvenating.

Exploring and learning about the immediate environment is the mission of North Cascades Institute. While staying at the Environmental Learning Center, our expert naturalists lead guests on a guided hike in North Cascades National Park. Participants experience the wilderness by learning about the local flora and fauna, observing the natural beauty of the mountainous North Cascades and visiting a breath-taking waterfall.

Food is another passion for North Cascades Institute. Our chefs make sure no one leaves our historic lakeside dining hall hungry by preparing flavorful, delicious, local, organic meals that can accommodate any dietary need (and there’s plenty of dessert too!).

cake betsy AndrianaDid someone say, “dessert”? Enjoy scrumptious meals at the Learning Center like this creation by our very own Chef Betsy. It’s a dairy-free, gluten-free delicious chocolate cake. Photo by author.

In addition to our naturalists and chefs, there is always an on-site host for Group Rentals to help guests and the program. Just like Maya Whole Health Studio, the North Cascades Institute staff is dedicated to making sure everyone thrives during their time here.

Ready to sign up for a retreat weekend with Maya Whole Health Studio? Below are the summer retreat dates and click here to register online or contact their studio:

June 13-15

July 2-4

Mark your calendars for their fall retreats too:

October 3-5

November 28-30

There are other Group Rental Programs that you can sign up for as well! From hiking adventures to wilderness medical trainings, visit

Or learn how you can host your own event at the beautiful Environmental Learning Center by contacting Andriana Fletcher, Group Program Coordinator, or 206-526-2565.

See you in the North Cascades!

IMG_5472Is there anything more epic than a glaciated valley in the North Cascades to inspire you to become more flexible and grounded? Likely not. Photo by Samantha Hale.
Leading photo: This praying mantis is a natural yogini. Photo by Katherine Renz.
Andriana Fletcher keeps the Environmental Learning Center bustling with diverse groups of people in her position as the Group Program Coordinator. When not in the North Cascades, she can probably be found in Croatia.




C10 Graduation: A Celebration of Endings and Beginnings

April 1st, 2012 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

March 15th marked a day of celebration for Cohort 10 graduate students at the end of a long journey as they completed their Master’s in Environmental Education from Western Washington University and received certificates in Leadership and Nonprofit Administration from the North Cascades Institute.

Institute staff and current Cohort 11 graduate students were joined by family and friends of Cohort 10 at the Environmental Learning Center to honor the achievements of this talented, lively, and inspiring bunch: Teresa Mealy, Kate Rinder, Stephanie Bennett, Codi Hamblin, Stephanie Pate, Nick Mikula, Clint Hensley, David Strich, Cece Bowerman, Elizabeth Penhollow, and Scott Davis.

C10 graduate students have spent the last two years living, learning, and teaching together while immersed in the natural world extending from the peaks of the Cascade mountains to the coastal waters of the Puget Sound. This group came together in June 2010 in Bellingham for a summer of exploration before moving to the Environmental Learning Center in North Cascades National Park to begin their year-long residency. During that year, these students gained hands-on experience as educators and staff working for a variety of Institute programs, including Mountain School, Base Camp, Family Getaways, Adult Programs, and Summer Youth programs. In the winter, Cohort 10 focused on project-based coursework in curriculum development and nonprofit management as they gained skills and understanding in how nonprofit organizations work, grow, and thrive. This year-long experience also provided opportunity for these students to cultivate a deeper connection to the North Cascades and to each other as they explored the region by foot, canoe, ski, and snowshoe.

Following the residency, the grads returned to Bellingham to spend their last two quarters back at Western Washington University’s campus where they applied their experience in the mountains to educational theory and various in-depth research projects.

» Continue reading C10 Graduation: A Celebration of Endings and Beginnings

Reflections on the 12th Annual Thunder Arm Writing Retreat

October 26th, 2011 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

As members of the current M.Ed. graduate cohort, we often have opportunities to assist with North Cascades Institute programs and courses outside our regular teaching schedules. Last month I had the awesome opportunity to assist and participate in the 12th Annual Thunder Arm Writing Retreat offered at the Environmental Learning Center. Poet Tim McNulty and essayist Ana Maria Spagna led three dynamic days that dug deep into self-exploration through prose. Below I’d like to highlight my experience and reflections of the retreat and showcase a poem I wrote over those inspiring days.

I’m an Environmental Educator with an English degree. Simply put, I love reading. Reading has the ability to transport the reader and as a result has enchanted me my entire life. When I volunteered for the retreat it had been some years since I last wrote creatively but only a few weeks since I’d delved into a book. In school I was trained to dissect another’s writing through close reading and critical analysis, not to freely capture my own thoughts through creative writing. The essay for me historically evokes a sense of drudgery, as words like “term paper” and “final exam” flood into my mind. At the beginning of the second day of the retreat, Ana Maria gave a craft talk titled “Peeling Back: The Movement toward Honesty in the Personal Essay.” Through group free-writing exercises she demonstrated how the essay can be viewed as a door to get at the truth of the moment. For the first time my academic experience of an essay transformed into an organic process of self-reflection and natural development of ideas. Both Ana Maria and later Tim McNulty demanded that as writers we trust our voice.

» Continue reading Reflections on the 12th Annual Thunder Arm Writing Retreat